Unable to hammer out a consensus on regularising the service of nearly 45,000 temporary or contractual employees hired through back door, the Punjab cabinet set up a committee under deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Tuesday to fine-tune the controversial policy.
Another contentious point is that the government proposes to keep these appointments out of the ambit of judicial review by making a law. As there are financial implications in this proposed ‘money bill’, the government needs the governor’s permission to enact this law.
The proposed legislation that seeks to withdraw the power of review from the judiciary is potential boiling point between the judiciary and the Parkash Singh Badal government that will face an election in 2017. If the cabinet accepts the proposal, the government may bring in an ordinance.
Sources say that after three years (in 2019), when these employees will be eligible for regular pay scale, the annual financial liability will shoot to `2,500 crore. Deputy CM Sukhbir, who is desperate to push the matter through — administrative and legal hurdles notwithstanding — had long meetings with senior bureaucrats since morning in the run-up to the evening cabinet meeting that went on for more than two hours.
The cabinet sub-committee will meet on October 12. It includes industry minister Madan Mohan Mittal, local bodies minister Anil Joshi, education minister Dr Daljit Singh Cheema, finance minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa, and health minister Surjit Kumar Jyani.
Sources in the cabinet said almost every minister had his own reservations and views on who should be included in this regularisation drive. Some ministers wanted to include employees hired through the outsourcing process, while other are for those hired under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan or National Rural Health Mission. “Every minister wants to regularise maximum employees of his department. That’s the dispute. But the ministers don’t have consensus on the criterion and the bottom line,” a minister said on the condition of anonymity.
The sub-committee will meet the secretaries of different departments and the other ministers before it prepares a report to be discussed in the cabinet. “The regularisation of employees was also considered... and a committee formed under the chairmanship of the deputy CM… to make more recommendations in the next cabinet meeting,” government spokesperson said.
The cabinet, sources say, also discussed the financial implications of this decision. At the core of this populist move is the upcoming assembly polls. A section of the ministers said that regularising those appointed through the back door will invite backlash from jobless people. And the excluded irregular employees will also turn against the government.
As the legal remembrance (LR) has also advised against this move, the government sought legal opinion of the advocate general also. In his advice, the LR has said: “The authority of the court for judicial review is sought to be withdrawn and it may be seen as to whether such a provision can stand scrutiny of the court.”
The LR has also cautioned the government that the proposed law should not amount to “backdoor entry” or cause “injustice to those who seek front-door entry”.